Drinking In Turkey

I open a beer and think of Cary Grant. I compare his suave to the movement of the sun among the trees and study my arms. I’m a little bit of him, not much, but enough to satisfy myself a while while listening to wind and the Marmara Sea washing against the rocks. Beer offers stillness and a calm delinquency. Beer is to its drinker what time is to the gods. I turn away sometimes and am surprised that the cherry sapling remains the same. The sun descends impossibly slowly to the Devil’s Rocks. Beer slows the world until it’s beautiful and possible again. Perhaps the girl in Kadıköy was in love with me. Of course she was; there is no doubt. She took my gift of garnet jewelry and secured them in a drawer.
Elsewhere on the peninsula women and men this evening are drinking rakı, what the Turks call “Lion’s Milk.” They sway to music and recall their pasts, lost loves in the city of Ordu, mica on the coast of Gaziantep, and the simplicity of Istanbul when flowers and movie stars reigned. Rakı is music and dance and remembering when Smyrna belonged to the Greeks, when one would sleep and hear pears falling to the courtyard of the mosque. In a book with frayed edges I found a fragment called “The Rakı Drinker” written by an unnamed Turkish poet. I’ve done my best to translate.
The rakı drinker strides from table to sea
because he knows the beauty’s in
the in-between, the grapes
that have not quite fallen,
the girl who lisps a little
when she sings. He knows despair
that we cannot, and weeps
when the guitar man begins
the old Smyrna music
this side of the Aegean Sea.
How beautiful these lines; they haunt me when I stand with my ankles submerged in the sea. Surely they were written by a man who knew heartbreak and impossible love, or forbidden love—they are the same.
I like to drink because I like the movement of the sea, and windmills, and Hemingway’s prose. I like to drink because my father is alive again and Saturday beckons on a Friday night, a Saturday of football and spectacular color, a Saturday bound to be better than any Saturday before. I like to drink because there might still be a girl in Istanbul who remembers me, who’s sad because I’m not there, who dreams of me when the Bosphorus is flooded with fog. A nice girl who discovered her hips to be the hips of the city on an ordinary Thursday afternoon.
If beer’s a cloud then whiskey is a sword, and both are fine. The whiskey drinker moves in angles, attempting some achievement only he can see. It might be a portrait of a former prince; it might be a girl surrounded by a landscape of dying corn. When I drink whiskey I want to dive into a swindling man and break his bones; I want to seek out false prophets and arrange their flesh on makeshift sticks in the way of my Savior. When I drink whiskey I’ve the urge to write of dying things in poems only the soulless might read. Whiskey’s for the man who builds schooners in the hot morning sun and for the woman who seeks satisfaction in a handful of coins. I like it, but it’s sneaky like a reaper and props broken ladders on broken trees. It’s best in a kitchen with candle-light when the priest has gone home and all that remains is the thought of him chewing pork with long teeth. It almost hurts, but in the good way.
The ocean is another story. After an afternoon of sun and swirling sand, a gin ’n’ tonic’s not only good but necessary. Take it with ice and a wedge of lime and listen to the island begin to unwind. This is the hour of conversation trailing off and music in the house. A child begins a game of Solitaire; men haul blues and Spanish mackerel from the shore and will ask for the fillet knive, which is where it should be and always has been—on the wooden plank scrubbed maybe a thousand times, scrubbed well, but still offering scents of previous seasons and the errant fish scale. If you’re lucky, some companion’s gone to the market that afternoon for several pounds of shrimp and has already cleaned them, foreseeing this hour when we, wearied by much swimming, will eat them with cocktail sauce. The more horseradish, the better. The more your glass sweats, the better.

Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.

Categories: Essay

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